CriticalDance Forum

Training dancers to understand the power of words
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Author:  LMCtech [ Fri Jan 12, 2007 2:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Training dancers to understand the power of words

A rather flippant remark I made in the Simone Clarke thread here has got me thinking about whether or not dancers really understand the power of words since they don't use them as a regular part of their art as an actor does.

I say they don't, but think they could if taught about them.

It seems that in the population of young US ballet dancers that much is lost in their abbreviated educations, namely reading copious amounts of good (and bad) literature and analyzing it ad nauseum. This is a "skill" I was forced to develop in college (and somewhat in high school), but I would not have developed it if I had chosen the path of ballet.

I wonder if acting classes in a dancer's education would help?

Author:  Diane [ Sat Jan 13, 2007 12:59 pm ]
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Interesting point!
In Germany the "ordinary" highschool education comprises a lot of the analytical type of work on a myriad of texts as you mention; but I do not remember doing much of that in my American high-school education.

So, I would imagine it does somewhat depend on where one goes to school, and not only how long.

(at what age do kids who want to dance professionally generally stop school in the US? I think that in GB it was about 16 when I was there.... I am not sure what it is now)

As to whether acting classes would help with this; I don't know.
They _could_, but it would of course depend greatly on how they were conducted and where the emphasis lay.
Do (pre-pro) dancers have acting classes in the US? Is that a "normal" part of their curriculum?


Author:  ksneds [ Sat Jan 13, 2007 2:45 pm ]
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I think the age when dance students in the US stop their education varies. In the US, one can leave school at 16, but I think most ballet students at least attempt to get a high school education. Some schools like SAB require that students remain in school and many SAB students who don't go on to professional careers attend top colleges. However, I don't know if the schooling requirement persists once they become apprentices and certainly not all the home-study programs the students follow are particularly rigorous.

In contrast, whilst students at the Royal Danish Ballet school are only required to stay in school through year 9 or 10 (it depends on when they turn 16), they get a more rounded education that most US dance students. They have their own school in theatre, which at least in recent years has a good reputation and very small class sizes. Thus, though students may miss class for rehearsals, they get very hands on teaching and help in keeping up with their studies. Also, they attend the opera, orchestra, theatre and ballet rehearsals as part of their schooling, so a wide variety of the arts are integrated into the curriculum.

I think students at POB and the Vaganova Academy also receive a well rounded arts education, as do those at the Royal Ballet School. My perception would be that the lack of boarding ballet schools or those with their own academic component in the US is a huge stumbling block. Students have much more time for academics when they don't have to travel between ballet and academic schools, and are in an academic environment that supports and understands the arts.

I wonder such analytic skills could be taught to dancers via short courses or seminars, much like many companies are trying to work with dancers on nutrional and injury issues.

Author:  LMCtech [ Tue Jan 16, 2007 5:13 pm ]
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I agree it would depend on the acting class.

Most ballet schools do not offer acting classes, but I think they should, having seen some of the dismal mugging that goes on during Romeo&Juliets I've seen. If they do get acting, it's not usually text based, it is based on pantomime.

I have found the most well-spoken dancers were also the ones who were well-read. Go figure...

Maybe they should all just be required to read a book a week.

Author:  Frank N. [ Wed Jan 17, 2007 10:37 am ]
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Perhaps another strategy to acquaint dance students with the power of words would be to develop their abilities at dance journalism. One (U.S.) studio I know of asked its dancers to attend and review a different Nutcracker.

This strategy would do little to address the quality of US academic education, and might not prevent the next Simone Clarke from making the next set of media gaffes, but there are other advantages.

If you'll pardon a comparison with American football, I will point out that football players spend time off the field, studying game films, memorizing plays, etc. (I suspect other sports are the same.) I worry that my dancing daughters' dance education seems to stop as soon as the shoes come off.

Author:  LMCtech [ Wed Jan 17, 2007 3:47 pm ]
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It's a justifiable worry. I worry about the same thing, though I don't have children. I worry about the narrow-mindedness of present American ballet training will affect the art in the future.

I like the idea of requiring reviews. Even if they were oral reviews it would force the silent dancer to consider they're words. I had to do this in college and it was tremendously helpful to me as an observer and as a dancer. I think it made my dancing clearer.

Author:  Andre Yew [ Wed Jan 17, 2007 10:35 pm ]
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Frank N. wrote:
If you'll pardon a comparison with American football, I will point out that football players spend time off the field, studying game films, memorizing plays, etc. (I suspect other sports are the same.) I worry that my dancing daughters' dance education seems to stop as soon as the shoes come off.

I think this depends on the individual dancers. I know one dancer who reviews the video of her performance as soon as it's over so she can improve the next night. Dancers definitely study each other, too. There are some who also study other art forms so they can broaden and inform their own art.

Perhaps there isn't a culture of encouraging dancers to do things like this, whereas there is in football. And football also has far more easily quantifiable goals --- win games --- but I don't think there's anything intrinsic in dance that prevents dancers from expanding their education.

As for knowing the power of words (and images), I wish some dancers would consider that when they set up their Myspace sites.


Author:  LMCtech [ Thu Jan 18, 2007 12:50 pm ]
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Ewwww, bad MySpace pages.

That's my point exactly.

I don't think they realize how they can come off as different than they intend based on their word choice. What may seem cool or hip in colloquial speech just comes off as stupid when read. And in interviews, what you say can be twisted by editing.

Author:  Rosella [ Sun Jan 21, 2007 11:07 am ]
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I agree with the idea of making them write a review. Also I would suggest a first approach to literature, which is in a way 'the' place where words acquire a certain evocative power. Poetry in particular can be very revealing.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sun Jan 21, 2007 12:13 pm ]
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We have been speaking of dancers' education and, given that this discussion is in the context of the incident with Simone Clarke, it's not surprising that ballet has been the focus. But, perhaps it's worth remembering that professional contemporary dancers trained in the UK will nearly all be graduates who will have taken at least some analytical text-based work and starting their careers aged around 21-23.

Does it make a difference? I know that the Rambert and Random dancers I met were fully behind their company's support for Amnesty International and the conversations I have had with them and others certainly gives the impression of a sophisticated world view....and, of course, contemporary dancers use speech from time to time on-stage.

Author:  salzberg [ Sun Jan 21, 2007 1:34 pm ]
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American modern dancers are, also, more likely than ballet dancers to be college educated.

Author:  LMCtech [ Mon Jan 22, 2007 12:17 am ]
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It seems to me that in the San Francisco Bay Area the dancers who are being interviewed are more often ballet dancers than modern dancers, though that could be a cynically biased observation. And they often sound sophomoric compared to their modern dancer counterparts.

Author:  Toba Singer [ Sun Apr 15, 2007 5:54 pm ]
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What I found shameful when my son was a student a SFB was that he was forced because of the school's schedule to finishi his high school education at what is basically a trailer park called "Independence High School," the end of the line for kids who have gotten into trouble with the law, dropped out or study ballet. Even though he had begun his high school education at School of the Arts, based on the bureaucratic rationale that SFB's teachers weren't "credentialed" (even though they are among the best dance teachers in the United States if not the world), the Unified School District wouldn't let him remain at SOTA because his SFB schedule conflicted with SOTA's dance classes by a credentialed (modern) teacher. So he transfered to Indpendence and went there once a week, received a photocopy of his assignment which he was expected to fill in and return the following week. If you wanted to study a language or advanced math, forget it, Independence didn't offer it. Once, knowing he had a compapny dress rehearsal for R&J the following week when he was supposed to turn in his weekly photocopy, he turned it in a week early. That got me a phone call at work from his "teacher" advising me to warn my son never to turn in an assignment early ever again! I had been trying to reach the school's principal for months without success, but turning in an assignment early finally put me in touch with someone at the school. I was almost grateful! Since he wanted very much to take Physics, he had to petition the School Board in order for him to take a 7:30 a.m. Physics class at Lowell (another "normal" academic high school). I wish that SFB could at least had someone teach literature related to the ballets it performs such as R&J, Othello or a dance history course that includes reading biographies of major dancers. I think it would help the dance students feel less alone and isolated when faced with the challenges a dance career inevitably poses. :idea:

Author:  LMCtech [ Mon Apr 16, 2007 12:22 pm ]
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I wish we could have offered something like that too.

The SF opera does very well sending docents into classrooms that will be seeing an opera soon. I wish SFB's education department would do the same for the SFB school advanced students.

SFB of course is not an isolated example of ballet training limiting the options for academic training. Several other major ballet academies have similar schedules to SFB and therefore their students must make similar arrangements. Even students at schools that have accademics in house (like North Carolina School fo the Arts or Walnut Hill) have complained that their dance schedules do not allow then to take the same academically rigorous classes as their musician counterparts. But that could be another discussion entirely.

I any case, wouldn't it be great to require a ballet class to read R&J before performing in it. I would love to teach it.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Tue May 01, 2007 5:09 am ]
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Interesting topic, I just came upon this thread and wanted to add my two cents.

Having grown up in the Bay Area, I understand Toba (and her son's) frustrations with the lack of understanding within the public school system (or even within private schools) regarding promising ballet students who are required to juggle the "rules" of the school system and the times of ballet classes, rehearsals and performances. It was not until my senior year in high school that I was allowed to leave school at 12 noon in order to attend afternoon ballet classes an hour away from my parents' home. Increasingly frustrating would be a situation such as she mentions, when the student himself/herself wants to take a certain class that conflicts schedule-wise. Most schools are not accommodating, and their rigidity in fact goes against what they claim to promote: an education for everyone.

From public middle school through public high school my sister (who also attended SFB) and myself had no access to dance history classes or archived films. Instead, we sought those out on our own, attending every performance we could, checking out every library book and video we could possibly get our hands on, saving money to buy video tapes to add to our home library. It *is* possible to self educate in these areas which are less complex (I would argue) than something like physics where I'd assume you really do need a teacher, a textbook, a classroom, and so on. At least in the case of additional arts training, that can be found (although less than ideally) on one's own, or on the side. The sad part is that it has to be done this way -- I was one of probably 10 people in a high school of 2000 who knew the history of ballet, or, for that matter, what it was.

The reticence that the public schools have to students in the "arts", and the weak levels of art programs (school band/music classes/art studios and so on) is really shocking. I encountered time and again the mindset that a girl pursuing ballet could not be intelligent, and yet I was in all honors classes and graduated with a 4.2 GPA. The other girls who also attended my high school and danced in most cases were better students than those who were cheerleaders or pursued no sport/art form whatsoever.

To Lisa's point about R&J -- I remember sophomore year the class (in high school) was required to read the play. Having seen it so many times performed by SFB by that point in my life, of course I knew the story inside and out. But I was the only one in our class who did! People did not understand the story line -- i remember being shocked, it seemed so basic to me! So I think the exposure to dance and dance history outside the public school system in fact enriches the individual -- arguably moreso than the time wasted sitting in some sub-par school classrooms...

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